Despite questions about the negative consequences of tourism, it will be an important generator of employment and an engine for development in the Pacific region, said Jimmie Rodgers, director-general of the New-Caledonia-based Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), in address the National Press Club in Australia (25 September).
He said that many small island nations are simply not endowed with natural resources and land space for other industry to grow or to create an effective private sector. This makes them very vulnerable to changing climate and heavily reliant on aid — much of which comes from Australia.
But the new Australian government is reviewing its aid program and intends to realign and cut its foreign aid.
Rodgers tells SciDev.Net that although he believes that the Australian government will not be cutting aid to the Pacific region soon, he thinks that Pacific nations should focus more on tourism as a means to spur growth.
He warns, though, of the need to keep ecosystems healthy especially the marine environment upon which tourism in the Pacific depends.
Tracy Berno, associate professor of tourism and development at the Lincoln University, New Zealand, tells SciDev.Net: "Unsustainable practices in tourism may promote short-term economic gains, but in a region so dependent on tourism-orientated development, this introduces unacceptable and unsustainable risks".
Berno, who has extensively studied how tourism affects livelihoods, culture and natural environment in South Pacific countries such as Fiji and Samoa, attests that good stewardship of both cultural and natural resources is essential to the future of tourism in the region.
She says that water management is particularly important because water is both vital for human consumption and is the key attraction of island countries that lures millions of tourists to their shores every year.
Her comments are in line with the views of the UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon who called for better safeguarding and management of water resources on the recent World Tourism Day celebration (27 September). The issue of sustainability of island tourism was discussed at last month's conference of small island states in the Pacific which also affirmed the importance of tourism and sustainable development to their economies.
Berno says increased tourism have led to overfishing and pressured coastal and groundwater resources while climate change has led to extreme weather events, such as strong cyclones and droughts, which continue to threaten low lying islands.
"Without safe and sustainable water, tourism — and the associated economic benefits — are at risk," she says.
This article has been produced by SciDev.Net's South-East Asia & Pacific desk.